This blog is far overdue for an update. In my last post from January 15th, I was rather blunt about what was going on. Things were changing and it was a little difficult. I found myself living on the edge of a dormant, spiritless village in a big, beautiful, cold and lonely house. I had returned back to Albania after a lovely rendezvous in America to be reminded that the situation that was facing me was still there, that the drama of mistakes and the unhappiness of my previous assignment was still staring me in the face, just as it had been for about 6 months to.. my entire service in Ksamil.
The short resolve to this story is that I fixed it.
I wasn’t going to live my life that way any longer. Finally, the fact that my assignment and expectations for myself weren’t being met needed to be addressed. I don’t need to legitimize or badger this topic any further. Remembering a conversation w/R and the joy I felt when I worked at the Children’s Home in Saranda; I decided that if I was going to dive into this work there was no turning back and that I’d need to fully commit.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What spurred this crazy change from hey, I’m leaving and moving on with my life to let’s stay another year and do awesome things?
The change was kicked off in February with a visit from Julia Swanson. In this month I explored, celebrated, immersed myself in friendships, and figuratively (sometimes literally) ran through the streets of Albania.
How did this happen? Most readers of this blog know this whole story, but leave me to my creative devices. Julia Swanson and I have known one another since her family moved to Streator when we were about 5 years old (fact check). Her father became Park Presbyterian Church’s pastor and we were thrown together in cantatas, Sunday school, youth groups, etc. Finally in the same school at SHS, we bonded over shared drama club, parks, dances, walks, and me showing up at her house a lot. Separated by university, we still visited one another routinely. And here in our 25th year, she came to Albania.
This is where my whirl wind of a month began. The gist of which, as now the months have gone by and I’m still catching up here is that it was a really wonderful. It came at a time that I needed a refreshing new attempt at the country. Traveling through it seemed for sure that the sun started to come out a little more as we visited friends and I was reminded of the enjoyment of living in Albania, something I forget sometimes. Timed rightly it somehow helped to emphasis the larger decision I was considering.
So I made the decision to continue to live and work in Albania. A week after she left, I picked a new place, packing everything, finalizing things at the Children’s Home, and left the house in the condition that would please my Albanian landlady that I respected dearly. I left this cool albanian- style mansion and moved to the big city to the cars and the motorcycles and the children, to a ‘flat’ and damn it I kind of love it.
My very first day ‘on the job’ was at the end of this two week dash to move on. March 8th is International Women’s Day, which is actually celebrated in Albania pretty well. In Saranda there is an annual party in a restaurant set on the sea. It was plot fare- maybe 175- 250 women were there, easily. I found myself meeting all of the lively, energetic staff members of the Children’s Home in one big sweep. What happens at this fest, as every in Albania, there is food, loud live music, and circle dancing. Circle dancing is something I have come to love in Albania. There is something to be said about joining hands in a circle with all of the working, prominent women of a city and doing the same rhythmic step together for a good 10-20 minutes. You join and are accepted into that community in that moment. Being the foreign girl, they helped me, they praised my ability to do the very simple steps and I was literally very close to them. The Children’s Home staff was easily the liveliest group in the room and to top it off Nila the social worker recited with fervor a poem that we had heard earlier in the day at the opening of the women’s outreach center, my secondary assignment.
This was my kick-off to working at the home. The first week of the new job would be summed up with- exhaustion. It was: finding out everything about the system of the home, becoming a part of the staff, meetings with other networks of supporters, beginning to set-up programming, etc. At the same time, I settled into my cute little flat in the bustling city, being lulled to sleep by the men in the lokali downstairs singing isopolyphonic and speeding motorbikes.
Work is going well and I have regular English lesson staff members, which I hope will encourage their own professional development and be of assistance in future years for other gainful employment or to better facilitate support from outside sources such as church missionaries. Another consistent activity of mine is computer lessons, where we have so far have learned about creating posters and postcards. This helped teach simple things from resizing photos and text boxes to bring up discussions on why certain color schemes are more appropriate and how posters ought to have a theme and a message. Simple right? You’d be amazed in how much progress is possible. My other activities at the home are trying to get a garden going, seeking grants, working on developing an art program, networking to other interested community partners, reaching out to university and high school students for volunteering, having a preteen girl club, and so many other things all at the same time.
Generally, I am working on not only the end product but the process, connecting interested parties and getting staff to be active in supporting programming. It’s very avash avash. It may not be a high quantity output activity but it’s hard to say what my presence will be to them as a role model. This may not be humble to say, but I do bring different experiences and mentality; not only to the kids but to the staff too. Since Albania is still developing, so many people get caught into thinking they can’t make things happen and by just doing some things.. this proves otherwise for not only the Children’s Home but also the community.
And living my life as a role model is something even more so on my mind. I’ve been working on myself to continue a philosophy in seeing things at face value, that what is visible is what it is, that there is no underlying secret negative message in things. Optimistic and naive? Perhaps, but I’m finding that the more I encourage this and that generally putting forward a positive demeanor and to realizoj my desires and goals, they come to fruition. Ya, I’m knocking on the nearest wood.
Keeping this mentality has pervaded my whole life. I’m at a healthy point of loving myself and the life I have created. A somewhat strange activity that has fit itself into this mindset is my undertaking of being active on Couchsurfing, which is allowing complete strangers to sleep in my bed. Alright now, don’t freak, so far I have met some amazing people without any form of bad situation. Each of these stays has been yet another wonderful experience of sharing stories, ideas, dreams, thoughts, meals, and more. Having this experience has inspired me to travel more and their well wishes spur me on an everyday way to be the best I can be.
There is so much going on, all at the same time and I have been a terrible correspondent at times to my friends and family in the US. I know you want to know what’s going on, but sometimes I know it doesn’t make sense to you. If you wondered why is Casey staying in Albania and not coming home to us, just trust that I’m making a good decision for myself. To tell you truthfully, I feel damn right spiritual about it and I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that way about anything else before. Something put me on this path and I will not discredit that it was all the steps that you put me through that brought me here. When I walk into work at the Children’s Home, I’m greeted by children running up for hugs, that just need the love I can give them. This wasn’t something we are born with, I learned this from you, my readers. In my everyday life I consider the lessons I learned through my family, clubs, church, school, friends, love, and experiences; and I try to employ them to do and be the best I can be.
Other great things:
Feb 17th- 20th- Close of Service G14 Harlem Shake
Feb 28- 29th- Kelcyre to Corovode Hike, 26 miles in 12 hours
Mar 1st- OA Saranda Harlem Shake.
April 20th- Flash Freeze for Environmental Awareness